A recent Gallup poll of 500,000 students in 37 states finds that with each year they progress in school, students are less engaged — with just 4 in 10 high-school students reportedly engaged, down from 8 in 10 in elementary school, Ellen Wexler writes in this guest blog post. Among the possible reasons cited for the decline is the increased focus on standardized testing in later grades and a lack of options for students who are not on the college path. 

With every year that passes between 5th and 12th grade, the number of students who are engaged in school declines steadily, according to the Gallup Student Poll, released last month.

A majority of elementary school students—almost eight in 10—qualify as engaged, the poll found. By middle school, however, that number drops to six in 10 students. And when students enter high school, it drops to four in 10.

The poll surveyed approximately 500,000 students from 37 states in over 1,700 public schools in 2012. Each year, as we’ve previously covered, Gallup measures students’ levels of engagement, hope, and well-being at any schools that opt to participate. According to Gallup, those three measures account for one-third of the variance in student success.

“The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure,” executive director of Gallup Education Brandon Busteed said in The Gallup Blog. “Imagine what our economy would look like today if nearly eight in 10 of our high school graduates were engaged—just as they were in elementary school.”

Actually, in a small number of high schools, that prospect is almost true. While the overall levels of high school engagement are still quite low, the best high schools Gallup surveyed had approximately seven in 10 students qualify as engaged—nearly as many students as the average elementary school. Gallup interviewed the principals of these high schools and asked what they had done to successfully engage their students. Sometimes, according to Busteed, Gallup would get responses like, “Our high school feels like an elementary school.”